No head coach, no problem, as Gators win women's basketball game

Special to Gatorsports.com

OXFORD, Miss. — Paced by Kiki Smith's 25 points, the Florida women's basketball team defeated Ole Miss, 78-68, on Sunday without a key member of the program.

The Gators (9-6, 2-5 SEC) collected their second consecutive SEC win without fourth-year head coach Cam Newbauer at the helm. Newbauer did not travel and missed the game due to health and safety protocols.

Making her head coaching debut, associate head coach Kelly Rae Finley served as Florida's acting head coach for the contest. Finley's unexpected debut will certainly be a memorable one as the Gators broke through for their first win on the road in league play.

 "Obviously we miss Cam and that's to be expected but like we talked about before the game — he's a great coach and he had us all prepared well, both as assistants, our entire staff and our team," Finley said. "I think they all had a lot of belief in each other and it was really fun to watch them compete against a really talented Ole Miss team. That wasn't an easy game. We knew that they would continue to fight for all 40 minutes."

 After trailing 37-33 at the half Florida exploded in the third quarter, outscoring the Rebels 25-12. The Gators' surge would be the story of the game as they never relinquished their lead following their third quarter run.

Smith scored over 20 points for the third consecutive game, 13 points helped the Gators' garner the game's momentum.

Registering its third-straight win over Ole Miss (7-5,1-5 SEC) and posting a victory in Oxford for the first time since 2016, UF employed a total team effort with eight different players scoring in the game.

Finishing in double figures for the 14th time this season, Lavender Briggs, who sealed last season's meeting between the programs with a game-winning steal, tallied 16 points, including 12 in the second half. Briggs was just 2-for-7 in the first but responded with a big second half helping the Gators' nab their second conference win. Totaling double figures for the sixth time this season, Nina Rickards posted a solid all-around game with 10 points, nine rebounds and three assists. Smith, who has really upped her play as of late, finished 8-of-15 from the floor and dished out three assists.

The Gators return home Thursday when they host Missouri at 6 p.m. at Exactech Arena. .